The agriculture ministry said on Wednesday that there was nothing irregular about the uprooting of the acacia trees from the protected turtle beaches of Limni and Argaka in Paphos, but the forestry department ought to have informed other state services ahead of time.
The agriculture ministry’s permanent secretary, Olympia Stylianou, defended her ministry actions at a meeting of the House environment committee called after the forestry department was criticised two weeks ago when its crews bulldozed and burned acacia trees along a strip of around 700 metres of the Mavralis state forest. The trees bordered the protected beaches of Limni and Argakas at Chysochous bay where turtles go to lay their eggs.
Leaders of local authorities also attended the meeting and raised another issue, that of the presence of toxic substances on the beaches, the legacy of an old nearby mine that is now inactive. They said that very few turtles, if any, visit the area.
Stylianou said that the forestry department’s actions were not irregular but that consultation with other state services of her ministry beforehand would have been best.
She said the ministry would organise a meeting with the scientific committee to discuss further steps. She reiterated that the removal of acacias was part of a management plan in progress since 2015 to remove them gradually as they are an aggressive species that threatens local flora.
A series of measures will be taken for the protection of the beaches in question from light pollution and to restore vegetation with appropriate plants. At a second stage, the removal of debris and other litter from the beach will take place to meet the objectives of protecting the turtles and the habitat and “of coexistence with the inhabitants of the area in a safe environment”.
Stylianou said that scientific studies have been made on those beaches for years, monitored closely by the EU and are considered a very important habitat at European level.
But local community leaders focused more on what they described as the toxic waste left behind by the mine.
Polis Chrysoschous mayor, Yiotis Papachristofi, said that the waste endangers the lives of area residents and of the small number of sea turtles there and called for a proper restoration of the beaches and of the habitat.
Community leader of Argaka, Spyros Pelopida, said that he never saw any turtles in the area. He too called for the removal of the toxic waste.
Diko Paphos MP, Charalambos Pittokopitis, chastised those who rushed to link the uprooting of the acacias with private interests.
Head of the House environment committee, Akel MP Adamos Adamou, said that they expect to hear from the forestry department and other ministry services how they plan on restoring the area in time for the turtle nesting period and protect the environment in such a way so as not to disturb the quality of life of residents.
Adamou called also for the removal of the toxic waste.